It’s no secret the lockout-shortened, 2011 NFL off-season severely cramped the progress of all 32 teams. Attempting to squeeze an appropriate slate of critical off-season activities into just over 40 days was next to impossible. Time deficiencies costed each organization valuable windows for player improvement and scheme implementation.
Not to mention, from a health standpoint, the volume of players suffering from leg cramps and hamstring injuries during the first month of regular season games seemed much higher than recent years. While all teams were negatively affected by the condensed off-season last year, the Cowboys were one of the teams these constraints pinched the hardest.
With impressive and talented new coaching hires in 2011, the Cowboys were unable to get the most out of these great additions. Mike Woicik (Strength & Conditioning), Jimmy Robinson (Asst. Head Coach/Wide Receivers), Rob Ryan (Defensive Coordinator), and Jerome Henderson (Secondary) were all very strong hires that the Cowboys expected huge, immediate benefits from.
The lengthy NFL lockout hindered smooth transitions for all of these coaches beyond words. Now with a full off-season on tap, the 2011 hires raring to go, and the 2012 addition of veteran Bill Callahan (Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line), the Cowboys are soon to experience firsthand the benefits and improvements these talented men will produce.
MIKE WOICIK (Strength & Conditioning)
Woicik brings 21 years of NFL S&C experience to the table. His first stint was with none other than the Dallas Cowboys (1990-96). Mike went on to lead the S&C program of the New Orleans Saints (1997-99) and the New England Patriots (2000-10) before making his return to the Cowboys.
Current and former football players on any level who’ve experienced a quality S&C program can attest to the crucial progress that is made during these off-peak months. Without it, the production on the field certainly falls short of what could have been.
And Woicik is one of the most talented S&C gurus in the league. He’s worked under such coaching legends as Jimmy Johnson, Mike Ditka, and Bill Belichick…three Super Bowl winning head coaches known to work players to their maximum potential during the off-season.
The current Dallas roster contains 34 players with three years of pro experience or less (out of 61 total non-rookies). And of this limited pro experience, one year had almost no offseason for a real strength program to foster improvement.
Also with 7 drafted rookies, and 20 undrafted rookie free agents, the Cowboys have a tremendous amount of youth on this football team. Many Cowboys will be experiencing their first professional strength & conditioning program. Suffice to say, the gains in strength, quickness, and endurance should be highly noticeable through on the field production in comparison to last season.
JIMMY ROBINSON (Wide Receivers)
The WR position is chalked full of youth and inexperience. Miles Austin (7 year veteran) is the only player with more than 3 years of NFL experience. Dez Bryant, while a great talent, is known to be behind the 3rd year veteran curve in maturity on and off the field. These aspects appear occasionally in his lack of grasping the offense, poor routes, and immature outbursts after a catch which border on taunting at times.
Kevin Ogletree has yet to develop into any kind of offensive threat or much less a viable alternate option during his 3 years in Dallas. And beyond these three veteran players sits guys with one year experience or raw rookies, in which all have yet to experience a full NFL off-season to learn the important nuances of the position.
With a superb WR coach like Robinson having a full off-season to teach and instruct, his 21 years of NFL coaching experience will certainly elevate each of these players. Robinson’s last stretch as WR coach was with the Green Bay Packers from 2006-10. In Green Bay he lead the Packer’s WR group to the third most receiving yards (21,299) over that total 5-year span.
If anyone will take this handful of veterans and several young players to the next level, it seems he would be the man. It’s very apparent by his immense talent that Dez Bryant could be an absolute terror in the league if he consistently ran precise routes and played with more concentration and discipline.
BILL CALLAHAN (Offensive Line)
The offensive line is one area that can truly make huge strides with the right coaching. Callahan is a very accomplished coach, known to be an excellent o-line teacher, and very demanding of his players. He brings a no-nonsense coaching style that gets right down to business.
In his past he’s served as Offensive Line Coach (Philadelphia Eagles and NY Jets), Offensive Coordinator (Oakland Raiders), and Head Coach (Oakland Raiders and Nebraska Cornhuskers). His experience developing and leading players will be invaluable to this group.
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line was in the midst of a massive youth movement before the free agency additions of Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings, each with 5 years in the league. Even with these new veterans, the offensive line still sports 6 players with 2 years or less experience in the NFL, out of the 9 total linemen (non-rookies).
Callahan will be a shot of new blood for 8 of these 9 players. 2 were with other teams last season and 6 learned under longtime Cowboy Hudson Houck. The potential benefits from this new start with a highly talented, demanding coach like Callahan are exciting and can only make this group more productive.